Wednesday, November 7, 2018


Pier Luigi Tucci, The Temple of Peace in Rome. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xx, 1121. ISBN 9781107162471; 9781107162549.

Reviewed by Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani, Università degli Studi Roma Tre (

Version at BMCR home site


In the vast complex of the Imperial Fora, the Templum Pacis – built by Vespasian between 71 and 75 A.D. – for a long time has been the least archaeologically known component, because it was untouched by the excavations that, from the second decade of the past century, brought to light significant portions of the other Fora. Until the end of the 20th century the only known part of the complex was the hall located on the southern limit of the monument where, during the 6th century, the church of SS. Cosmas and Damian was founded. This situation changed completely thanks to excavations begun in 1998 by archaeologists of the Soprintendenze of the City of Rome and the State. These excavations cover almost a quarter of the surface of the monument and are still ongoing in the cult-room by way of a collaboration between the Soprintendenza of Rome and the University of Roma Tre. The ongoing work conducted in the complex is the reason why – unlike the Fora of Caesar, Augustus and Nerva – a definitive edition of the excavation results is still unpublished, although numerous studies and publications have presented an account of the data which have emerged from these researches.

Based in part on these studies, but mainly on his research conducted for years on the structures connected to the church and monastery of SS. Cosmas and Damian that occupy and reuse a part of the ancient edifices of the monument, Pier Luigi Tucci has published this vast work in two volumes – using in part what had already been published in previous papers and articles – with the intent of offering a complete picture of the monument, as well as its history and significance from an urbanistic, ideological and propagandistic point of view.

The first volume (Art and Culture in Imperial Rome), is divided into two parts: the first (The Templum Pacis in Context) focuses on the monument in general, while the second (Technical Analysis) deals with its technical and structural analysis. In the first part, composed of 5 chapters, the historical and literary sources referring to the monument (chapter 1) are discussed alongside the influence of Augustan-period architecture on Vespasian's project, with an in-depth analysis of the structure of the porticoes (here envisaged with an attic) (chapter 2). Chapter 3 discusses the architectural and functional aspect of the still preserved rooms (the one of the Forma Urbis and the adjacent one that Tucci identifies, according to his theory, as the Bibliotheca Pacis, the result of a Domitianic restoration). Chapter 4 discusses the functions of the complex, particularly in relation to the cultural use indicated by the ancient sources, with a long discussion in which Tucci criticizes the widespread opinion that the Templum Pacis was the seat of medical associations. Lastly chapter 5 discusses the works of art that, based on the accounts provided by ancient sources, decorated the monument, including the spoils from the temple of Jerusalem that Titus had brought to Rome. In this chapter it is important to highlight the original hypothesis in which the famous Cancelleria reliefs, now in the Vatican Museums, would have been initially located in the Templum Pacis where they are imagined as decorating an enclosed altar in the same manner as the Augustan Ara Pacis. Following Domitian's damnatio memoriae, these would have been dismantled and stored in a warehouse in the area of the Campus Martius, abandoned there until their discovery in the 1930s. (In the reliefs, the portrait of Domitian is actually reworked as Nerva, but Tucci bypasses this problem stating that "the operation proved unsuccessful; the new head was too small".) The second part of the volume examines in three chapters and in great detail the structures of the monument, although limited to those located in the south-west corner, directly studied by the author.

The second volume (Volume II: Remodelings, Conversions, Excavations) is divided into 5 parts (whose numeration continues from Volume I). Part III (The Great Hall in the Fourth Century) analyzes the central-plan structure overlooking the Via Sacra, added on to the complex in the 4th century and known in archaeological literature as the "Temple of Romulus", which the author dates to the full Constantinian period rather than to the reign of Maxentius, as suggested by the majority of scholars, as well as the transformations of the adjacent great hall, the alleged Bibliotheca Pacis. Part IV (The Basilica of Pope Felix IV – AD 526-530) deals with the transformation of this structure into the church of SS. Cosmas and Damian. Parts V and VI (The Templum Pacis in the Middle Ages and Between the Renaissance and Baroque) analyze the changes that the church and adjacent monastery underwent until the 17th century. Finally, part VII (Modern Excavation and Restorations) traces the history of the excavations in the hall of the Forma Urbis and the Clivus ad Carinas in the 19th century along with the restoration of the church and monastery in the 20th century.

It is not easy to offer an overall assessment of this work, mainly because of the uneven level of detail provided for each subject. If the title seemingly suggests that the topic of the volume is a complete treatise on the Forum of Peace, the truth instead is quite different. Some parts of the monument, for instance the hall of the Forma Urbis and the hall where the church of SS. Cosmas and Damian will be installed, as well as a number of architectural elements, in particular the south-west portico, are discussed with a wealth of detail, whereas other parts, such as the cult-room with the great podium, the structures beneath the tower of the Conti, or those related to the original layout of the north-western perimeter wall, destroyed in order to build the Forum of Nerva (perhaps the most significant historical and architectural discovery of the new excavations at the Templum Pacis), are analyzed in a much more superficial manner or not analyzed at all, without providing any justification for such marked differences in analysis.

Regarding the second volume on the post-classical history of the monument, this partiality is even more disconcerting. In particular the title of part V (The Templum Pacis in the Middle Ages) is completely misleading seeing that the whole volume deals exclusively with one of the halls that made up the monument – the one converted in the 6th century into the church dedicated to SS. Cosmas and Damian – which actually constitutes only a small part of the entire Templum Pacis. While the sequence of events that took place in this hall and the church are analyzed in great detail, those that occurred in the area of the old Forum – brought to light during the recent excavations – are practically never cited nor even fleetingly mentioned. It is impossible to understand the logic according to which a detailed description is provided of all the sarcophagi reused in the church over the course of the Middle Ages instead of what should be (at least judging by the title) a treatise on the events involving the entire Forum of Peace. The author barely mentions the transformation of the square into a commercial structure during the 4th century, or that it was successively occupied by a vast necropolis in the 6th, then replaced by complex agricultural activities in the 9th and subjected to large-scale spoliations during the late medieval period. A much more correct and truthfully accurate title for this volume would have been "The Transformations of the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian". It should also be added that in some cases the book has already been outdated by the results of the latest research, particularly in the cult-room. Here, for example, studies conducted on the podium of the statue of Pax have revealed a complex sequence characterized by three phases of gradual structural enlargement, and have brought to light, through test probes, the foundations of the walls enclosing the Templum towards the Velia, thus clarifying their course. Likewise, the analyses of the architectural decorations are irremediably surpassed by the study of hundreds of marble fragments documented in the new excavations. Naturally these lacunae cannot be attributed to Tucci (except for the choice of publishing a monograph on a monument that is still being excavated), however they doubtlessly contribute in making it impossible to consider this volume as the state of the art on the Forum of Peace.

A large part of the text, especially in the first part, is dedicated to arguing with other scholars whose views Tucci does not share. The critiques are often argued in a very polemical way, at times quite aggressively, whereas Tucci's theories are always voiced without the minimum doubt. (I believe that not once, in the over 1100 pages of the two volumes, is a dubitative formula such as "in my opinion" or "it can be assumed" used.) The same goes when dealing with controversial themes that have been the subject of long-standing debates, such as the location of the Bibliotheca Pacis, the possible presence of a Schola Medicorum, the function of the Forma Urbis Marmorea, the placing of the furnishings from the Temple of Jerusalem, etc. The same assuredness that Tucci manifests in his own ideas is also expressed in the belief that he knows more about the excavation results than those who have conducted those very same excavations for years. To offer one example (although more could be cited), at page 19 he rejects the plan of the sewer system of the square published by the excavation director, considering it as unreliable on the sole basis of a photograph that he himself took outside of the site enclosure while passing along the nearby road.

I would here like to emphasize, seeing that this is characteristic of the manner and tone adopted by Tucci to argue his cases, the long and violent critique of the anastylosis carried out in 2015 by the Soprintendenza of Rome on 7 columns of the western portico of the Templum (pp. 43-50). In my belief, that operation was an important and well-accomplished first attempt to restore a clearer comprehensibility to the monument. Tucci's vision differs, which is naturally legitimate. However, what is not legitimate is the acritical use of false news spread by the press (written mainly for the purpose of attacking the city administration at that time). A case in point is the discussion of the use of reinforced concrete in the foundations of the raised columns, without ever citing the publications of those responsible for the work, which would consequently have re-established the truth on this and other points.

Evidently, it is not possible here to discuss in detail the different theories advanced by Tucci. These are always articulated in a thorough and detailed manner, in some cases argued with objective forms of evidence, particularly in relation to the directly studied portion of the monument (the hall of the church of SS. Cosmas and Damian and adjacent structures) subject to in-depth structural analysis.

Other conjectures are contradictory, and in the absence of certain proof, it is impossible to reach some form of definitive conclusion, despite the assuredness with which they are presented. In still other cases it is Tucci's reasoning that is not particularly convincing. For example, one can cite the debate on the function of the Forma Urbis (one of those classic ongoing controversies in which it will be impossible to reach generally shared conclusions). Tucci sides with those who believe that the great marble map had a decorative and symbolic function and cannot be considered as evidence for the existence in nearby structures of offices linked in some way to the Urban Prefecture or the city administration. This theory is argued with a long digression on the propagandistic use of maps exposed to the public during the Fascist period (pp. 133-140) – not only an anachronistic argument, but one that in this specific case demonstrates the exact opposite of what is argued. The only really suitable comparison, in fact, refers to a monumental map of Rome made by Duilio Cambellotti in the new Civil Registry office, an edifice that was in fact attached to the city administration (it is very clear that Cambellotti himself was inspired by the Severan Forma Urbis, demonstrating the anti-historical nature of such comparisons).

Ultimately, the two volumes by Pier Luigi Tucci, though not corresponding to what the title would lead one to believe, namely a complete treatise on the state of the art of the Templum Pacis, still remain – with caveats – an important contribution to the study of the monument, especially for the detailed treatise and analysis on the structures of the church of SS. Cosmas and Damian as well as for the thorough research conducted on the bibliography and literary sources related to the entire complex.

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